Last week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report titled, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Competitiveness Woes Behind: A National Traded Sector Competitiveness Strategy,” by Stephen Ezell and Robert Atkinson. In the report, they state, “A comprehensive strategy aimed at strengthening U.S. establishments competing in global markets is needed for the United States to boost short-term recovery and long-term prosperity…”

"The United States is increasingly isolated in its belief that countries don't compete with one another and that only firms compete," said ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, co-author of the report. "Our traded sector establishments are up against competitors that are aided in countless ways by their governments. It's time to level the playing field."

The report presents 50 federal-level policy recommendations to help restore U.S. traded sector competitiveness, along with 13 state-level recommendations. The recommendations are organized around federal policies regarding the “4Ts” of technology, tax, trade and talent, as well as policies to increase access to capital, reform regulations, and better assess U.S. traded sector competitiveness.

A nation’s traded sector includes industries such as manufacturing, software, engineering and design services, music, movies, video games, farming, and mining, which compete in international marketplaces and whose output is sold at least in part to nonresidents of the nation. They are the core engine of U.S. economic growth and face unique challenges.

Because these industries face competition in the global market that non-traded, local-serving industries (retail trade or personal services) do not, their success is riskier. “The health of U.S. traded sector enterprises in industries such as semiconductors, software, machine tools, or automobiles—all far more exposed to global competition than local-serving firms and industries—cannot be taken for granted.”

If a company like Boeing loses market share to Airbus, thousands of domestic jobs at Boeing, its suppliers, and the companies at which their employees spend money will be lost. In contrast, a local grocery store may compete for business with other supermarkets, but it is not threatened by international competition. If Safeway loses market share to Wal-Mart, the jobs remain in the United States.

Ezell and Atkinson state, “The fact that the U.S. traded sector has not created a single net new job in 20 years is a core reason for the current U.S. economic malaise.” They cite the research of Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence, who has demonstrated that “from 1990 until the Great Recession started in 2007, the U.S. achieved virtually no growth in traded sector jobs. The malaise has been a downright decline in manufacturing, as the United States lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing workforce in the previous decade, saw on net over 66,000 manufacturing establishments close, accrued a trade deficit in manufactured products of over $4 trillion, and experienced a decline in manufacturing output of 11% at a time when U.S. GDP increased by 11% (when measured properly).”

Ezell and Atkinson corroborate what I have written previously ─ “every lost manufacturing job has meant the loss of an additional two to three jobs throughout the rest of the economy. The 32% loss of manufacturing jobs was a central cause of the country’s anemic overall job performance during the previous decade, when the U.S. economy produced, on net, no new jobs….at the rate of growth in manufacturing jobs that occurred in 2011, it would take until at least 2020 for employment to return to where the economy was in terms of manufacturing jobs at the end of 2007.”